A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows….The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.
How do the drugs get into the water?
People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.
The EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals. The EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, [but] only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection [rather than regulation].
While researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.
Contamination is not confined to the United States [however]. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. In Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples.
Another issue: There’s evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.
One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.
Scaring people away from their taps into the bottled water aisle at the grocery store will cost them thousands of dollars a year without making them any safer. Nearly 40 percent of bottled water is simply repackaged tap water. What’s more, there’s no government agency testing bottled water contamination from known hazards such as bacteria, synthetic contaminants, or heavy metals.
While the Associated Press did not test bottled water, earlier testers have found dangerous substances such as arsenic and bromate, both known carcinogens. And bottled water comes with its own list of unknown hazards from chemicals leached into the water from the plastic bottles. Tap water is still the best choice for most Americans.